As far as reputations go, Huskies football coach Jimmy Lake is experiencing an extreme make-under.
Life has come at him with the speed of the Concorde backed by the jet stream.
Highly touted when he took over the program from Chris Petersen after the 2019 season — and then validated by posting the best record in the Pac-12 North last year — his image has been sullied by poor performances and even poorer decision-making. And the more one examines his situation, the harder it is to think he can bounce back.
On Monday, Washington announced that Lake will be suspended for Saturday’s game against Arizona State following an investigation of a sideline incident involving him and walk-on linebacker Ruperake Fuavai. Cameras showed Lake striking Fuavai on the face mask after separating him from a scrum, then pushing him in the back when he turned to walk away.
Could he have hurt a fully padded college football player who was still wearing his helmet? Highly doubtful. But the optics were bad enough that, for a minute, it seemed like Lake could lose his job.
“While we do not believe that his actions were intentional or deliberate, we can have no tolerance for a coach interacting with a student in the manner Coach Lake did,” Washington athletic director Jen Cohen said in a statement. “We have high expectations of conduct for our coaches, and we will not shy away from those expectations.”
But it wasn’t just the sideline incident that made Lake’s future at Washington seem ever so tenuous. That was just the latest — and perhaps most egregious — occurrence tied to his tumble.
Other shortcomings and questionable choices have caused Lake’s seat to come to a boil. Examples?
Well, first there’s recruiting. The Huskies simply aren’t landing many highly coveted prospects. Petersen would incessantly downplay the significance of recruiting rankings, and perhaps Lake views them similarly. But when 24/7 Sports has the Huskies’ 2022 class ranked 54th in the country, it is cause for concern.
This suspension won’t help in that regard, particularly given the reason. Certain images will stand out in recruits’ minds, and a coach striking a player — regardless of intent — is one of them.
Coaching acumen goes only so far in college football. Talent still rules the day — and based on early commitments, the Huskies will be conspicuously short on it in the future.
Next, there was Lake hiring John Donovan as his offensive coordinator. Donovan was let go Sunday after the Huskies’ offense again stagnated in a 26-16 loss to Oregon. UW had seven first downs in the game. It had 166 yards of offense compared with the Ducks’ 427. Perhaps that’s what one should expect from a team ranked 10th in the Pac-12 in total offense this year.
No, you can’t put a team’s offensive woes squarely on the OC. But Donovan’s hire was a head-scratcher from Day 1. The man’s previous gig was running-backs coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars, yet Lake gave him the keys to an offense for a team regularly challenging for the conference title. Is it really that big of a surprise that he failed?
Then, of course, there were Lake’s disparaging comments about Oregon before Saturday’s game. Earlier in the week, he dismissed the Ducks as a recruiting rival because they lacked “academic prowess” — adding that more revered academic institutions such as Notre Dame and Stanford were the Huskies’ true competition.
Candor and smack-talk are usually appreciated, but those remarks were unwise and unbecoming. And when you combine all this with the fact that Washington is 4-5 with a loss to Montana of the FCS this season, it makes one wonder whether Lake — a prodigious defensive coordinator and defensive-backs coach — was cut out to be the man in charge.
To be fair, Lake seems like a genuinely good guy. He conducts himself with dignity, stands up for his players and assistant coaches, and treats the media with respect. His Oregon comments and Saturday sideline antics weren’t consistent with his general behavior. But they still happened, and he has to live with that.
It wasn’t long ago that Lake was a rock star — the man rumored as Nick Saban’s top choice to be Alabama’s next defensive coordinator. His star has dimmed since.
On Saturday we saw him strike a player. Now it seems that one more strike — physically or figuratively — and he’s out.